Roll off: Sudden Death or Drawn Out?

Written by lewsauder

September 1, 2017

Sudden Death

Like most rational human beings, I hope I don’t die for a long time. But without being too macabre, I do think about death occasionally. Every once in a while someone will ask the question, “How do you want to die?”

I’ve never been able to come up with a specific way to die that sounds, I don’t know, desirable. But I’ve often said something like, “suddenly,” or “without any suffering.”

About three years ago, I lost two childhood friends. One died instantly of a heart attack in his sleep. One day here, the next day gone. The other died after a long battle with cancer.

I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to my friend who died of a heart attack. But I rationalize that he didn’t have to suffer.

My other friend suffered with cancer for over five years. As we approached the end, I was able to visit her in the hospital and say goodbye. It gave me a good feeling to be able to have one last conversation with her, but I hated that she had to suffer for so long.

Sudden death

While rolling off a project is a whole lot different than death, how you roll off does have some parallels. I’ve been on projects where someone is told at the end of the day (invariably a Friday) that their contract is being terminated. This sometimes occurs based on poor performance by the consultant, but I’ve seen it as a matter of course. Managers can be heartless at times.

When the consultant is removed due to sudden death, many of their co-workers don’t find out until Monday morning. They may find the consultant’s empty desk. There may be a farewell email. Sometimes, the client will send out a sterile email noting that, “Bob’s not here anymore. Please see Mary for any questions you had for Bob.”

Depending on how close you were to “Bob,” you might call or text him. You might just stay connected to him on LinkedIn. You may just put your head down and hope that you’re not next.

This is a terrible way to be removed from a project from the consultant’s perspective. He is left with no real chance to say goodbye other than an impersonal email.

Drawn out painful death

On the other end of the spectrum, some people know they will roll off months in advance. Sometimes when we know a contract will be ending, there is always the chance that it could be extended. But sometimes, the consultant knows that in six weeks, she is done.

This can result in awkward moments, as people talk about plans beyond the consultant’s time on the project. Every team outing involves a toast to the departing consultant.

It also can involve a checked-out consultant who is spending work time finding her new gig. Team members who know the consultant is on the death march continually ask, “When are you done?”

The appropriate timing

The nature of consulting is that it is temporary. Some consultants serve the same client for years. Some have more seniority than many full-time employees. But almost all consultants move on at some time. It’s part of the reason they are consultants.

So what is the appropriate notification period for a consultant roll-off?

Like any consultant, my answer is, ”It depends.” Ideally, two weeks is the standard. This gives the consultant and her teammates time to do the following:

  • Complete and/or document any in-flight work
  • Transfer knowledge to existing teammates
  • Have a going away lunch or happy hour for the outgoing consultant

There are extenuating circumstances. Be sure to check your consulting agreement to determine how much notice must be given. Some contacts stipulate up to a month of notice.

Independent consultants often have to find their own clients. If your consultant is independent and has been serving the client for a long time, it’s a professional courtesy to give them ample time, up to a month, to find their next project.


Consultants join projects knowing that someday they will roll off. One of the reason’s people like consulting is for the variety of projects and client settings.

When rolling a consultant off of a project, it is best for all involved to give an appropriate warning for everyone. Just make sure that the warning doesn’t go on too long.

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at

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Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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1 Comment

  1. Chris Pehura

    I’m a little old school on this. A work contract is the same as a social contract. If the contract ends on Friday, yes, complete as much of the critical work that is humanly possible by that Friday. But, there is also the social hand off part where you give them instructions on what should be done next and why — so someone else can pick up where you left off. Then give the client a one week window to ask some quick questions.

    I always do my best to soften the blow.



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